“So, you want to go back to the beach this fall,” Michael said, his eyes on the bright brochures spread across the breakfast table between him and Elise. “Did you even give any thought to the mountains?”
“Well, a little,” Elise answered, her hands clenching into fists in her lap. “But you know what the cold does to my arthritis, and I thought…”
Michael’s icy, blue eyes lifted, bored into hers. “You thought what?”
Now it was Elise’s eyes that dropped. “I thought you’d want…er…me to be…” She swallowed the growing lump in her throat. “Comfortable. And I can’t…” Tears filmed her eyes. “I can’t be when all my joints ache.”
Michael stood, swept the brochures and his half-full cup of black coffee from the table. “You know what’s wrong with you, Elise?” he asked, a sneer twisting his lips. “All you think about is yourself.” He stalked to the door leading into the garage, yanked it open, and said over his shoulder, “Take an aspirin, you’ll be fine.”
When Elise heard the garage door closing, she rose unsteadily to her feet. “I can’t go on like this,” she muttered under her breath. “I just can’t.”
Pixie slunk into the kitchen, her grizzled head hanging low. Whining, the old spaniel looked up at Elise.
“I just can’t,” she repeated to the dog.
Elise squatted and began picking up the cup shards, her hands now steady and her fear gone. “I guess I’ll just have to kill the son-of-a bitch.”
Spring was my mama’s favorite season. She loved gardening, whether it involved vegetables or ornamentals, and when one visited, spring, summer, or fall, outside among the growing thingswas where one would likely find her. Her front porch sported a multitude of wind chimes, and when I hear mine (on my back porch) “tinkling in the wind,” I think of her. This one is for you, Mama.
March chimes tinkle in the wind, Telling me spring is on the way, Chasing away dark winter days. And I wonder where the wind has been.
Unlike winter, spring sports a grin. Yellow-bold, bright and warm and gay. March chimes tinkle in the wind, Telling me spring is on the way.
Sometimes brash, chimes dance, drunk on gin. Or perhaps weed entered the fray. Drunk or high or merry, who’s to say? They jump and jingle as they spin— March chimes tinkle in the wind, Telling me spring is on the way.
(Note: Originating in French lyrical poetry of the 14th century, a rondel poem is a fixed form of verse based on two rhyme sounds and consisting usually of 14 lines divided into three stanzas. The first two lines of the 1st stanza are repeated as the refrain of the 2nd and 3rd stanzas. The meter is open, but usually has eight syllables per line. Rhyme scheme: A-B-b-a, a-b-A-B, a-b-b-a-A-(B)—capital letters represent lines repeated verbatim.)
The branch runs close to the old house I grew up in. It is still there, though the house is long gone, torn down and replaced when I was around twelve or thirteen, with one having indoor plumbing. Yes, it still meanders along the base of the hill where the now old, but newer house still sits, and children are yet making memories along its twisty-twiney path, some of them my great-grand nieces and nephews, and cousins, both removed, second, thirds, and what-nots. It played a central role in my childhood, provided many hours of entertainment back in the dinosaur days of no internet, no cellphones, just a rotary phone whose line was shared between eight households.
When heavy rains came, the branch jumped its banks, sometimes spreading over the nearby fields my daddy had cleared for the cows to graze. It flooded the place where our road crossed it to the main road—both dirt—and we couldn’t get to the other side, sometimes for days. That could fit into both the Bad and Ugly, and Good. Much depended on which side of the branch you were on when it flooded, and whether you were a child or adult.
We lived near the road crossing, but there were two other families, plus my grandparents on my Daddy’s side, who lived farther down our side road. No one could get to town, no one could get to jobs, but us kids didn’t mind that the school bus couldn’t cross the branch to pick us up. And if one happened to be on the other side and it flooded, you couldn’t get home until it went down. Once, when I was in junior high, that happened to me. I remember Mama being on the other side of the branch when the bus pulled up. She yelled at me to go to my sister’s house, and Lord, did she have to scream loud for me to hear her over the water’s roar. Luckily, my recently married sister and her husband lived maybe half a mile (I’m not good judging distances, so it might have been more or less.) back along the school bus route, so the driver dropped me off there. I stayed at least one night, possibly two. The Good was I got to stay with my sister; the Bad and Ugly, I still had to go to school. Thank you, Sister, for providing clean clothes.
The worst of the Bad and Ugly happened when I was to be the second-grade princess in the school’s spring pageant. My cousin loaned me a formal dress, for I was to sit on stage with the other royalty—a sixth-grade boy and girl who were king and queen, and the princesses and princes, one boy and one girl, each chosen from grades one through five. I don’t remember who my prince was, but I do remember the joy in my shy, little heart at being picked as a princess. My sister, who was in fifth grade, was slated to sing with a group in the pageant. You ought to have seen how beautiful she looked in her bright yellow dress. Well, it rained the day of the pageant, which was being held at night, and all of us kids made it home from school okay, but between then and time to leave, the branch rose higher and higher until it was impossible to cross without risking life and limb. I was so disappointed, and most likely muttered a few choice curses under my breath, probably learned from my older brother, who was also Good and Bad, but not Ugly.
I forgave the branch. Like most people and things, it had its own path to follow, and its unique share of ups and downs.
The Good provided by the branch more than made up for its Bads and Uglies. My siblings, cousins—who lived just upstream—and I were in it in the spring as soon as the water warmed enough that our bare feet could comfortably wade in it. Carrying a big tin can, we searched for crawdads that often hid beneath flat rocks. Snakes sometimes hid there too. There was an art to crawdad hunting: Stand to the back of the rock you were going to raise, slowly lift it on the side farthest from you, and take a peek. Most always, a crawdad skulked there, pinchers raised in warning, but on occasion, a snake would be coiled beneath. Then it was drop the rock and run. The crawdads we caught and collected in the can containing a little water were set free after we were finished, unless a relative or neighbor had requested some to be used as fish bait. It was strictly a catch and release program, though I do recall that at least once we cooked their tails over a fire at the bluff. But the wondrous bluff is a story into itself, so I won’t go into it at this time. I don’t recall how the crawdad tails tasted—maybe like chicken?
My brother, sister, and I set out minnow jars in a deeper puddle in the branch that was fed by an underground spring. We constructed them similar to the picture above, except we used half-gallon Mason jars and screen wire for the funnel instead of a soda bottle. What we did with the captured minnows, I don’t recall, but I’ll never forget the time we hauled our jars from the water, and squiggly snakes filled the insides of the jars, and like the minnows, couldn’t escape. One of us returned to the house, fetched Mama, and she came to the rescue, breaking the jars and killing the snakes with a garden hoe.
A few times we seined the branch and caught snakes then too. I don’t know what we had set out to catch; we probably didn’t even know ourselves. It was just something fun to do that included the outdoors and water.
When the branch’s waters warmed even more, along around late May or early June, we took baths in it. We had no indoor plumbing so bathing involved heating water to a boil on the wood cook stove, pouring it and cold into a long, metal washtub, and us kids taking a bath, youngest girl to oldest, then my brother. Using the branch for this purpose was a heck of a lot easier; we grabbed a towel, wash cloth, and a bar of Ivory soap (my sister says because it floats), and waded in. I only recall us girls doing it. Either my brother stayed dirty or bathed at a different time.
When summertime’s heat and lack of rain dried up the branch, we had to result to more drastic measures on our forays to catch crawdads. They burrowed down into the mud, leaving a little hole to mark the spot. We dug a few out of their shelters, but I don’t recall often doing that. It was really more trouble than it was worth. The ones that suffered this fate at our small hands probably died. Kids can be so thoughtless and cruel.
I have a fond memory of my aunt, mother of the cousins who lived upstream, showing us how to make mud gingerbread men. At their place, the branch ran behind the house and had big slabs of flat rocks on the bank. There, we mixed dirt and water, and shaped our mud men and women. My aunt plucked the flower heads from nearby wild butter weeds, whose blooms look like black-eyed susans, but have a yellow center instead of brown, and used them to make eyes, buttons, and such for our mud people.
When fall set in, the water gradually became too cold to play in, so there was a lull in our preoccupation with it. But when winter snapped its teeth upon the water, turning it to ice, we were at it again. Wearing only our regular shoes, brother, sister, and I skated on it. We were smart enough to stay off ponds, but the branch was fair game because even if the ice gave way, at worst we would be drenched in the cold water to about our knees—maybe thighs if it were me, the smallest.
That branch, along with the woods and bluff, was our entertainment. We made our own fun, having no need of structured play time and play dates. I think we were what is now referred to as “free-range” children, no helicopter parenting for us.
Often, I think about my childhood, about the branch and how adventurous it was to explore. Seeing snakes in it, falling in it and getting hurt as well as wet, and even the leach that latched onto my leg that Mama scraped off with a knife failed to dampen its allure. After all, what kid doesn’t love playing in a branch—especially when it’s a Good branch?
“What do you think about this one?” the face tech asked Skyler and Hudson. “The skin tone is a perfect match, cafe au lait…mmm…and that adorable smile…” The tech echoed the smile gracing the small mask’s face—though his with teeth, of course. “Sets the dear little one off on the right path.”
“I don’t know…” Skyler fingered a green-tipped, black cork-screw curl, turned her dark eyes to her husband. “What do you think? Is it too girly?”
“Well, she is a girl, Sweetums,” Hudson answered. “And well…uh…” He felt the heat of an unbecoming blush—thankfully hidden beneath his pale mask—at the unintended faux pas. “Well…uh…for now, that is.”
Skyler’s perfect lips strained slightly downward as her eyes turned back to the tech. “Can you whip up something a bit more gender-neutral? We wouldn’t want the mask to influence how they might develop.”
It took several days, but little Domino became accustomed to their face and stopped fussing when Skyler smoothed it back on after removing it to clean the bare skin beneath. Skyler hated the daily ordeal, revolted by the imperfections on her infant child’s face…slight, yes, but still ugly. More and more she had turned the task over to Hudson, who seemed unaffected by the baby’s unmasked face. She was so ready for Domino to be able to do the daily cleaning for themself, but the child was only seven months old, so that was a couple of years away. Why, Skyler could barely stand to see her own under-face, let alone anyone else’s. Continue reading “Faces R Us”→
Snow ice cream served up in a bowl (one of two) that Mama gave me when my first husband and I married many, many years ago—along with a few other needed odds and ends we didn’t receive at our wedding shower. The bowls are special, antiques at least as old as I am; but what makes them even more special is that they had belonged to my mama, that I had eaten out of them when I was a kid.
Last week, for the first time in several years, we received enough snow—around five inches—that I could scrape up (from my vehicle’s hood) clean, fresh snow and whip up a batch of snow ice cream. I have to say, it was almost as good as my mama used to make.
The simple treat took me back to winters spent in that weathered, drafty house filled with kids and love. Mama cooking on the wood stove, Daddy out tending the cattle, Granny Tucker sitting in front of the fireplace in an old, wooden rocker as close as she could get without scorching her legs. My brother, sister, and I out playing, having snowball fights, skating in our shoes on the frozen-over branch, our half-ass attempts to build a snowman. The time my brother fell on the ice and hit his head so hard the ice cracked. Seems like I recall him lying there for a bit before getting up. The time he threw a snowball at me with a rock packed inside and cracked the front door. I guess I’m lucky he missed me. The seemingly endless days we were out of school around Christmas break because the buses couldn’t run the rural routes.
The snow is gone now, though because of the unusual cold snap that arrived with it, hung around for a few days. When I looked out on all that snow, my mind traveled back to those times, long gone but never, ever forgotten. Yes, our house was old with cracks between the boards you could have slung the proverbial cat through. Yes, by today’s standards, we would have been considered poor. But you know, I never felt poor. I had a roof over my head, a warm fire—though you had to be practically on top of it to feel its heat—clothes to wear, good food in my belly, and loving parents. In all the things that really matter, I was rich.